Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's 8 PM - Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?

photo courtesy of Pacific Ballroom Dance

by Maureen Hathaway

Many young people go to school and feel firsthand the effects of the current economic situation. Families are having to cope by working evening hours, second jobs, and maneuvering around schedules that leave their kids unsupervised. This can become a gray area in which students begin to receive poor grades or become involved with friends who are experimenting in unsavory activities that might include drugs, theft, violence, etc.

Fortunately the Federal Way school system offers many productive afterschool programs such as sports, music, theater, and a variety of cultural clubs .When I briefly interviewed Kurt Lauer, the principal of the Federal Way Public Academy, he said that his students have the availability to participate in after school activities such as orchestra, art, chess club, and a Knowledge Bowl and math team.

We are also very fortunate to have a city that offers a wide variety of programs at our local parks, the Community Center, the X3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center, the Boys' and Girls' Clubs, as well as scouting and church groups, etc. All of these encourage kids to realize their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.

Our school district feels deeply about the need for parental involvement. The home is the first and most important school a child will ever have. Studies show that parent involvement in almost any form produces measurable gains in student achievement. SO, IT’S 8:00 PM- DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR KIDS ARE? The parents of Pacific Ballroom Dance know where theirs are!

Pacific Ballroom Dance (PBD) is an excellent example of parents working with an arts program. Over a decade ago, PBD was launched as a community organization to provide ballroom dance setting with an emphasis on a positive, artistic, social and athletic experience for 11-18 age youth. It enables a network of support systems with mentoring instructors, parents and peer groups to nurture interaction in a positive way. PBD feels that if kids don’t have a positive place to belong and to identify with, they will find a negative alternative. PBD students have heart, and attack their dance with gusto! They know that if they work hard they will grow into a prime example of a dancer.

If you have ever had the chance to observe a PBD performance, you’ll see music and dancing that explodes into a realm of dazzling and non-stop energy! It doesn’t come as a surprise that this atmosphere creates immense intensity in its staging, costuming, subtle dramatic lighting changes, and shimmery visual designs. Everything radiates audiences with amazement and the choreography is meticulously constructed in all dance repertoires.

I had a fascinating conversation when I interviewed Heather Longhurst, PBD development director and instructor. She spoke of life and dance as perpetually intertwined, and of the hard work and dedication of the students. About 50% of PBD members are Federal Way students. Since I work at the Public Academy, I knew we had four students who were involved with PBD. When I talked with Kendall Hutchins and Brayle Grabel for this article, I immediately understood that dance inhibits their souls. They are living proof of how parental involvement enables them to explore and fulfill their dreams. This is not an easy task as Kendall explained. Her average daily schedule begins at 6 AM, school at 8:30, a church class at 2:30, dance studio techniques (called syllabus) at 4, and lastly at 5 PM team dance. She arrives home at around 7:40 and begins her homework which can amount to up to two and a half hours a day. On Tuesdays she has a one-hour private lesson at the studio which focuses on one couple at a time in preparation for competition.

As PBD prepares for “Escalate” - their weekend June 4th and 5th program at the Auburn Performance Center, Kendall and Brayle, in addition to going to school, will be rehearsing from 4-11 each night beginning on Wednesday.

Both Kendall and Brayle say that parents are a large contribution to the organization. They sew, alter, clean and press costumes, apply make-up, pay tuition, sell tickets, advertise, organize cast parties, prepare mailings, monitor fitting rooms, provide stage manager duties, help with props and maintain concession stands. But most of all they DRIVE, DRIVE, DRIVE! To make it easier they carpool as often as they can to both small and large events which offer plenty of flash and dazzle in terms of dancing and musical nuance.

Brayle’s schedule is similar to Kendall’s and she often doesn’t get to bed until 11:00 or 11:30 due to her homework. Neither seems to blink an eye when they talk of having only six hours of sleep a night! Along with her dancing, Brayle also participates in Young Women activities at her church and journalism at the Federal Way Public Academy.

Overall, both Kendall and Brayle enjoy every second of their complicated schedules. They love not only the PBD staff support, but also their parents' dedication in assisting them with the relentless pursuit of their love of dance. And yes…it’s 8 PM and the parents of Pacific Ballroom Dance students do know where their kids are!

To find out how you can join, volunteer, or support Pacific Ballroom Dance and the June 4-5 “Escalate” performance at the Auburn Performing Arts Center, visit the web site at: or call 253-939-6524.

Maureen Hathaway teaches in the Federal Way School District. She also is a member of the Federal Way Arts Commission.

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